Ahead of the curve

Make this office special, said the brief. SelgasCano came up trumps

A mirrored panel confusingly divides office floors.
A mirrored panel confusingly divides office floors. · Credit: Iwan Baan

There is something hugely seductive about Second Home. It’s not the roly poly acrylic extrusion to the existing seventies building that makes it look like an eighties ad agency. It’s the brightness of the interiors, the curves, the mirrors and the lush plants.  You want to work here.

And that is the plan. The founders of Second Home, Rohan Silva and Sam Aldenton, set out with the idea that while incubator units and places like the Shoreditch’s Tea Building are great for start-ups, the next office is harder to find. A short term lease might secure you a space with Regus but where was the character, networking (or joy) in that? In the style of the sort of companies Silva eventually wanted to attract, he started to raise money from the cool and connected in the world of arts and tech. With it Second Home has the lease of 25,000ft2 over two storeys of very straightforward office space on the Shoreditch/City border – and is negotiating to expand within the building and elsewhere.

  • From the entrance open plan workspace segues sociably into the restaurant.
    From the entrance open plan workspace segues sociably into the restaurant. · Credit: Iwan Baan
  • Rolls of orange slates turn floor into benches into dividers.
    Rolls of orange slates turn floor into benches into dividers. · Credit: Iwan Baan
  • The choice meeting room also functions as a two story high greenhouse
    The choice meeting room also functions as a two story high greenhouse · Credit: Iwan Baan
  • Yellow flooring in the meeting rooms brings brightness to the centre of the plan.
    Yellow flooring in the meeting rooms brings brightness to the centre of the plan. · Credit: Iwan Baan

The pair hired Spanish practice SelgasCano to turn it into something special. Its own office just outside Madrid, referred to as Studio in the Woods, has some of the same acrylic curves, bright colours (orange, yellow) and borrowing of nature – that it also explored at the 2012 Venice Biennale. The practice’s Serpentine Pavilion this year will no doubt return to this. But for now it is expressed by the 1000 hydroponic plants dropped into delicately engineered shelves, and the two gardeners who will keep them healthy with the help of plant hospital in the courtyard.

Views through the building, crossing the studios of other members (yes, these are not just tenants but club members), is enabled by the transparent and apparently simple and inexpensive acrylic curves. Sheets are pre-formed in the factory into three different curves and brought to site (requiring quite generous tolerances). Some of the joints are disguised by acrylic mirrored panels that disguise the jump between the suspended serviced ceiling of the circulation spaces and the higher volumes of each studio. But you are not looking for perfection here, in fact variety is celebrated in the assorted 600 chairs and lamps that give this space a sense of a great café rather than an office. 

  • Orange dining is the outward expression of change to a very plain 1970s facade.
    Orange dining is the outward expression of change to a very plain 1970s facade. · Credit: Iwan Baan
  • Curves and lozenges make forms flow while the SelgasCano-designed desks and shelves perch more geometrically in the studios.
    Curves and lozenges make forms flow while the SelgasCano-designed desks and shelves perch more geometrically in the studios. · Credit: Iwan Baan
  • The double height greenhouse from above.
    The double height greenhouse from above. · Credit: Iwan Baan

Central to the concept was the ambition to help occupants expand and contract as needed and to come together and make use of each other’s knowledge and networks. Spatially, this is dealt with in the first two thirds of the ground floor – with its workaday entrance – the restaurant, and a hot desking cum events space in the dark centre of the building. Here the show is stolen by a corian-topped steel flying table: 1.5 tonnes on wires (with a system that has already had to be replaced). Under it will take place those serendipitous collisions that Silva dreams will bring entrepreneur members together, curated and introduced, over a regular lecture or lunch. Architect Jose Selgas is disarmingly modest and accommodating. ‘We are very obedient to the rules clients give,’ he says. But even so they have misgivings about the table: ‘We did try to take it out.’ Whether it flies or not, it is the dual vision of client and architect that has made this a spirited space.